Rediscovering catatonia: the biography of a treatable syndrome

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Catatonia, a disorder of movement and mood, was described and named in 1874. Other observers quickly made the same recognition. By the turn of the century, however, catatonia was incorporated as a type within a conjured syndrome of schizophrenia. There, catatonia has lain in the psychiatric classification for more than a century.


We review the history of catatonia and its present status. In the 1970s, the tie was questioned when catatonia was recognized among those with mood disorders. The recognition of catatonia within the neuroleptic malignant syndrome offered effective treatments of high doses of benzodiazepines and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), again questioning the tie. A verifying test for catatonia (the lorazepam sedation test) was developed. Soon the syndromes of delirious mania, toxic serotonin syndrome, and the repetitive behaviors in adolescents with autism were recognized as treatable variations of catatonia.


Ongoing studies now recognize catatonia among patients labeled as suffering from the Gilles de la Tourette's syndrome, anti-NMDAR encephalitis, obsessive–compulsive disease, and various mutisms.


Applying the treatments for catatonia to patients with these syndromes offers opportunities for clinical relief. Catatonia is a recognizable and effectively treatable neuropsychiatric syndrome. It has many faces. It warrants recognition outside schizophrenia in the psychiatric disease classification.

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